European Union ((EU) leaders have agreed to start membership talks with Serbia by January in a move that recognizes Belgrade's efforts to improve relations with Kosovo.
The EU leaders announced the decision on Friday during a summit in Brussels. They also agreed that the 27-nation bloc should begin negotiations with Kosovo on a so-called association agreement, a first step toward eventual EU membership.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the decision to hold membership talks with Serbia was a "historic moment for the Balkans."
He noted that the decision on Serbia had taken place as Croatia prepares to join the EU on Monday.
Serbia has been trying to join the EU for years, but EU leaders have demanded more cooperation from Serbia on capturing fugitive war criminals and improving relations with Kosovo.
Kosovo is a former province of Serbia. In the late 1990's, NATO forces bombed Serbia because of its war against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian separatists. Kosovo declared independence in 2008.